Bobby Zen

CHELTENHAM, UK–Believe it or not, Willie Mullins drew a blank on day three of the 2024 Cheltenham Festival, with Capodanno (Fr) (Manduro {Ger}) and Jade De Grugy (Fr) (Doctor Dino {Fr}) faring best of their trainer’s 11 runners on that card when finishing fourth in their respective races.

Twenty-four hours without a winner at the Festival is a long time in Willie’s world, the one in which he hit the target six times across the first two days of the meeting. Thankfully for him after Thursday’s ‘drought’, there was a strong case to be made that the team he’d assembled for day four was his most formidable yet, certainly numerically as his 25 runners on the card surpassed the 20 he saddled on Wednesday. It also took the total number of horses he ran this week to a scarcely believable 75.

There was a time when having 75 runners at the Cheltenham Festival in a lifetime would have been a notable achievement for a trainer, but Mullins has a habit of making the extraordinary look ordinary, with no better example than the milestone he celebrated on Wednesday when saddling his 100th winner at the meeting.

As for extraordinary equine talent, there are few better examples around at present than Galopin Des Champs (Fr), who led the Mullins battalions into war on Friday when tasked with trying to defend the G1 Cheltenham Gold Cup crown he won so impressively in 2023.

It looked a deep Gold Cup on paper with six other top-level winners featuring in an 11-strong field but, just like his trainer, Galopin Des Champs is capable of making remarkable feats of brilliance look rather routine, arriving at Cheltenham this year with eight Grade 1 wins to his name already and being backed into odds-on favouritism as if a ninth was in no doubt whatsoever.

Any punters who took the short odds wouldn’t have had too many anxious moments in the race itself, bar the presence of the loose Fastorslow (Fr) (Saint Des Saints {Fr})–who unseated J. J. Slevin early on the final circuit–as the field kicked for home on the run from four out.

From there Galopin Des Champs gradually moved up to press L’Homme Presse (Fr) (Diamond Boy {Fr}) at the head of affairs and it was all but over as a contest when he moved to the front with a typically fluent jump two out, ultimately winning by three and a half lengths from Gerri Colombe (Fr) (Saddler Maker {Ire}) having drawn right away on the approach to the last.

“I just think he put himself in the superstar category, to do what he did in the way that he did it,” Mullins said of the winner afterwards. “I think we have to say, we’re coming back next year to try to win a third one if we can. He has the ability to do it–he just has to stay sound, I think.”

The eight-year-old was providing both Mullins and jockey Paul Townend with their fourth Gold Cup victories apiece, having matched the two wins of the stable’s Al Boum Photo (Fr) (Buck’s Boum {Fr}) in 2019 and 2020. Mullins is also unique now as the only trainer to have saddled two different multiple winners of the sport’s blue riband.

As for Galopin Des Champs, he too is totally unique in being the only progeny of any real note produced by the late Timos (Ger), who put up one of his best efforts as a racehorse when filling the runner-up spot in the 2010 G2 Grand Prix de Chantilly for trainer Thierry Doumen.

Doumen stood Timos himself as a stallion before selling him to Tunisia at a time when Galopin Des Champs was yet to arrive on the scene to put his sire’s name in lights. Timos later moved to Libya where he sadly died, with the circumstances of his death being described as “shady” by Doumen when speaking to The Nick Luck Daily Podcast in March last year.

Galopin Des Champs might well be the first and last Cheltenham Festival sired by Timos, but the winner of the St. James’s Place Festival Challenge Cup Open Hunters’ Chase that followed, Sine Nomine (GB), came from a much more familiar source in the shape of Haras de la Tuilerie resident Saint Des Saints (Fr).

Already twice on the scoreboard on Thursday with Monmiral (Fr) and Protektorat (Fr), Saint Des Saints’s tally of three winners saw him share bragging rights among the leading stallions at this year’s Festival with Flemensfirth, who was represented by the Grade 1 winners Ballyburn (Ire) and Grey Dawning (Ire), plus Ben Pauling’s TrustATrader Plate Handicap Chase hero Shakem Up’Arry (Ire).

Dual champion sire Flemensfirth was a big loss to the Coolmore National Hunt ranks when he died in May 2023, having been retired from active stud duties in 2020, and so too Milan (GB) when he passed in 2022. Champion National Hunt sire himself in the 2019/20 season, Milan added to his list of Festival winners in this year’s finale as Better Days Ahead (Ire)–a £350,000 purchase at the 2022 Tattersalls Cheltenham Festival Sale–ran out a determined winner of the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle for Gordon Elliott and promising young rider Danny Gilligan.

G1 Stayers’ Hurdle-winning trainer Elliott finished the meeting with three winners having also struck in the G1 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle earlier on Friday’s card with Stellar Story (Ire). By Shantou–the leading sire at last year’s Festival with two winners– the Gigginstown House Stud-owned Stellar Story was another six-figure purchase at the 2022 Tattersalls Cheltenham Festival Sale when selling for £310,000.

Grange Stud’s Walk In The Park (Ire) is the standout name among the stallions still plying their trade on the Coolmore National Hunt roster and his two winners at this year’s Festival were notable for both being out of the same mare, Sway (Fr) (Califet {Fr}), who was a Listed winner over hurdles at Auteuil as a three-year-old.

Having subsequently raced in Britain in the familiar silks of J. P. McManus, Sway is now proving herself a prolific producer for her powerful owner with five winners from six foals to have raced. Inothewayurthinkin (Ire) looked potentially the pick of them so far when running away with Thursday’s Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup Amateur Jockeys’ Handicap Chase, though his full-sister Limerick Lace (Ire) might have something say about that after she led home a one-two for McManus when seeing off Dinoblue (Fr) (Doctor Dino {Fr}) to win the G2 Mrs Paddy Power Mares’ Chase on Friday’s card. Both winners were trained by Gavin Cromwell.

McManus also won the G1 JCB Triumph Hurdle which kicked off the final day of the meeting with the Mullins-trained Majborough (Fr). Like Timos, Majborough’s sire, Martinborough (Jpn), might be a new name to many National Hunt enthusiasts, a Japanese Group 3 winner who is based at Haras de la Baie in France. He’s certainly thrown up a good one in Majborough, though, a four-year-old who had previously been described as a Gold Cup horse of the future by Mullins and certainly looked a horse with plenty of talent when overhauling stablemate Kargese (Fr) (Jeu St Eloi {Fr}) to win the premier Grade 1 event for juveniles.

“He’s a chaser, isn’t he?” said Mullins after the victory. “When he came into the yard and they said he was our Triumph Hurdle horse, I said I thought he was a Gold Cup horse, a three-mile chaser. He’s very ‘trained’ at the moment, a bit angular, like all the French horses. But when he comes in from a summer’s grass, he will be some beast.”

That, of course, was winner number 101 at the Festival for Mullins, who wasted no time adding to his unprecedented tally in the BetMGM County Handicap Hurdle as Absurde (Fr) (Fastnet Rock {Aus}) finished best of all to deny Dan Skelton’s L’Eau Du Sud (Fr) (Lord Du Sud {Fr}).

It was a rare moment of agony in an otherwise jubilant week for Skelton and it was rather fitting that it should be provided by Mullins. The pair topped the training charts at the end of the Festival with nine wins for Mullins to Skelton’s four, a British stable fighting back but just not able to match the might of the Closutton machine which has now churned out 103 Festival winners–and counting–with few better than the exceptional dual Gold Cup hero Galopin Des Champs.

The post Galopin Des Champs Seals Golden Week For Mullins, Again appeared first on TDN | Thoroughbred Daily News | Horse Racing News, Results and Video | Thoroughbred Breeding and Auctions.

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